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Retail businesses need more diversity

August 27, 2012
The Town Crier

Dear Editor,

While I am always please to see new business open in the Poland area, and I welcome Dollar General and Larry's Drive Thru to town, I cannot help but continue to be disappointed at the lack of original economic development in the retail service sector. If I drive south for three miles, I arrive at Dollar General at Five Points. If I drive north three miles into Struthers, I find a brand new Family Dollar. I can literally be in three places that sell wine, beer, and snack food within a two-minute leisurely walk from the new drive-through, including; you guessed it, a beverage drive through. Along the greater 224 corridor, there must be at least four Taco Bells, a half-dozen excellent family-style Italian restaurants, and 20 dollar stores and drugstores. Take Poland alone, for example. I am a big fan of the new Cocca's Pizza and two weeks never go by where I don't place an order for pizza. But I can say the same of Inner Circle, LaRocca's and Belleria; all are excellent choices.

The brain dead redundancy of local retail development remains as disappointing as it is perplexing. As Simon "management" sits idle while Southern Park Mall languishes with closed store fronts and low end, off-brand options, even compared to the Eastwood Mall, the 224 corridor cries out for something trendy, high-end and original. One only needs to look to the new Menchie's Frozen Yogurt at Presidential Square. Menchie's, based out of Los Angeles, is busy day and night. It is so overrun as a weekend hot-spot I almost expect to see a line behind velvet ropes out front. Right now, residents along the 224 corridor must travel to Pittsburgh, Akron or Cleveland for any high-end services while redundant, low-end retail offerings cannibalize one another from a lack of vision. There is certainly sufficient wealth and sophistication in Poland, Canfield, and south Boardman to support some form of high-end retail development so we don't need to drive an hour and a half. Imagine if a developer would have used the old Poland Phar-Mor for a Trader Joe's market? Or if the old Value City could renovated as a Whole Foods market? Or a Michael Simon B-Spot opened in the abandoned diner on 224? Adding a truly high-end, small, clubby steakhouse like a Ditka's or Shula's to the moribund Western Reserve Square shops in downtown Poland would be transformational (Jim Tressel's Steak House, anyone?) Or imagine that in a bold and unlikely move, Simon would transform the dying dinosaur on Market and 224 into a lifestyle center outdoor mall, or at least redevelop the existing concept into that of a Summit Mall in Akron with desirable new options for Valley residents? I know if easy to plan with other people's money, but I see Sam Covelli practically printing money (good for him!) moving away from a crowded and oversaturated fast-food market and instead investing in the trendy Panera Break and a family dining chain that actually serves fresh, quality food with good service.

A market for better choices is here in the 224 corridor and the Valley. It doesn't want to keep driving 90 minutes to get high-end services. Here's hoping some imagination and calculated risk is undertaken next time and the 224 corridor can add something unique and desirable instead of the same ole low-end same ole. We want more than carry-out beer, fast food, bland chain dining, and bargain stores. If you build it, we will come.

Jim Barrett, Poland



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